Review: The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang (Tensorate #1)

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…it had been so easy to turn her into this mythical figure, a distant and all-powerful entity insulated by the walls of the capital and the monastery. A prophet. The prophet. Beloved and abstract. But she was also his sister. A mortal, a human being, a person. Made of flesh and sinew and bone and blood. And she could be hurt like anyone else.

Akeha and Mokoya are twins, the children of the Protector. At the age of 6 they are sold to and begin their education at a monastery. At the age of 17, their paths diverge. Mokoya, a seer, stays with their mother and the Protectorate. Akeha chooses to run away, works as a smuggler, and eventually joins the rebellion. Mokoya has always been treated as more important than Akeha and this influences their relationship, but despite some resentment, they love and care for each other regardless.

The worldbuilding is where this book really shines. It’s Asian-inspired, with a very interesting magic system divided into five natures (Earth, Water, Fire, Forest, Metal), and even a day/night cycle completely unlike our own. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that people are born genderless and choose whether they want to be a man or a woman at their confirmation (can be at any age), at which point the doctors magically re-shape their bodies – or not.

Unfortunately, this is not enough. The biggest issue with the book is the pacing – it’s a novella that takes place over the span of 35 years. There are massive time skips. While the first half of the story is spent on the twins’ childhood, the second half speeds ahead madly. Plot points are glossed over and I couldn’t form an attachment to the characters or the story. There was so much crammed into the short page count and not enough of anything. At two or three times its length, it could have been a good story. As it is, it’s a flawed one.

Enjoyment: 3/5
Execution: 3.5/5

Recommended to: worldbuilding enthusiasts, those looking for a shorter read and/or LGBTQ+ representation
Not recommended to: anyone bothered by time-skipping

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